Alternative Media: Patient Bloggers on Your Brands

Find out what patient bloggers are saying about your brands.
Jan 01, 2006


Gina Ashe
Self-expression has taken many forms over the years. Starting with bulletin boards in the 80s, then Web sites, and now weblogs or "blogs," it is becoming increasingly easier for individuals to voice their opinions. Patients seem to think so too. A growing number of them have recently turned to blogs to discuss medical issues, record their experiences, and give and seek advice about treatments. While patients may be distrustful of pharma, they see each other as credible sources of information. In fact, they often trust the advice of their peers more than they trust their physician. Some patients even"play doctor" on these blogs, offering brand endorsements and medication recommendations. While these product testimonials can credential a medication in the same way that user reviews drive sales for the latest gadgets, patients venting their frustrations or dissatisfaction with a medication can also do considerable damage to a company's marketing efforts. Either way, this information can be very valuable for pharma. Marketers must figure a way to leverage this insight to build better brands.

Powerful Peer Networks




Marketers must first identify why these blogs wield such influence over consumers. First, patients feel that blogs give them access to the "real truths" about medications, instead of the perceived untruths that pharma serves up. Even though many blogs lack credentialed sources, patients still tune in because they relate to real-life experiences and first-hand accounts. Second, many feel that in order to gain the upper hand on their disease, they need a wider network of authorities than just their physician or pharma-sponsored educational materials about drug therapies. While physicians still play the primary role in prescribing a drug treatment, an MD's perspective does not always address all of the disease-related issues that impact a patient's life, particularly the emotional ones. Nor are physicians available 24/7, unlike blogs, which function at all hours.

Diabetes Case Study

Marketers can utilize blogs by harvesting conversation strings that include terms or phrases that interest them. In one example, pharma marketers promoting a diabetes treatment analyzed more than 390,000 conversations that included the terms "diabetes," "low carb," and "insulin levels." They were looking for:

  • Leaders and influencers Who are the people leading the conversations? Where are they in the disease cycle? What is the criterion or expertise that has sanctioned them as an influencer on this topic?
  • Attitudes and motivations What are their attitudes about the condition and receiving treatment? What are their attitudes about available drugs? Do they respect the diagnosis of healthcare providers?
  • Novice questions and veteran answers What kinds of questions are people asking and what kinds of answers are they receiving from those who claim to be in-the-know? What is their understanding of the condition and the different treatment options?
  • Location and involvement What kinds of conversations are the disease or brand a part of? Where are these converstaions taking place? Are they in disease-specific forums or more broadly based conversations embedded within larger lifestyle sites?
  • Conversation content What aspects of the condition or medication make up the conversation? Is it the pursuit of finding the right treatment? What is the impact of the medication or disease on family or work life? Side effects? Financial issues? The search for improved quality of life?
  • Shifting patterns over time Is the online diaogue a reaction to new product entries, scientific advances, or other marketplace events?